How do you feel fear? What’s your body do when you are afraid? Most of us have a physiological reaction to fear such as tightened muscles, sweating palms, unclear thoughts.
I felt all of those this week after a waking night-mare involving my kids’ safety. It was completely 100% irrational, based not on a real crisis, but on myth and unconscious fantasy.
Which reminded me there are 2 kinds of fear and anxiety: acute and chronic. Acute fear is based in reality: something bad is actually happening (your house is on fire) and you need to respond. Your fear generates a wise response. Chronic fear is something else entirely, it is based on a myth, a half-truth, or a lie; and is not connected to reality. Like my nightmare, there’s no logical reason to feel afraid, you just are.
As a congregation we’ve confessed our fear to one another. A full 76% of us have said that fear holds us back from following Jesus wherever he leads. But which kind of fear is it? Is it acute fear- fear rooted in reality? Or is it chronic fear-fear rooted in a lie? We’ll come back to that in a moment.
But first, it’s important to note we’re not the first followers of Jesus who have been afraid. Our fear doesn’t make us unique, or deficient. It makes us just like the disciples, who locked themselves in a room for fear they too would be executed and did so after they had evidence Jesus had been resurrected.
Jesus appears in their midst and quiets their fears, saying “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you…Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22).” In place of their fear they receive 2 theologically enormous gifts (shalom, God’s Spirit) and a new vocation.
This is not the first time in John God’s extravagant generosity is portrayed as overcoming our fear. In Jesus lengthy prayer of John 17, we find the exact same themes: God’s generosity overcoming fear to send us into the world. 20 times in the prayer Jesus mentions how God gave gifts to Jesus or that Jesus himself was a gift given (or sent). 20 times! That’s an author’s pre type-print way of highlightling, bolding, and underlining a core theme, then throwing in several exclamation points to ensure you don’t miss it.
God, the generous one, gives everything needed for Jesus to accomplish the task: authority, glory, work, people, words, God’s name, oneness, and love are some of what God gives. Jesus can have such a rich and deep impact on the world precisely because he has overwhelming love for the world but is primarily aligned with God. He belongs to God, and not to the world or its whims and expectations.
Likewise, Jesus prayer reveals Jesus own extravagant generosity towards us, his followers. 14 times his prayer highlights his gifts to us: eternal life, God’s word, complete joy, protection, sanctification, love, oneness, and even God’s glory.
These wildly thoughtful gifts help us to see our God more clearly, and help us to see ourselves more clearly. We are sent in the exact same manner in which God sent Jesus, and we are equipped as was Jesus with everything needed for us to accomplish our task of becoming God’s gift to the world.
So what kind of fear is it that we have: acute or chronic? Are we afraid to follow Jesus because of something we can point to in the real world, or something in the shadow of our conscience that is lying to us?
The evidence from John 17 is that we have absolutely nothing to fear! Jesus specifically prays to God for our protection from the evil one. A prayer which seems to have been born out in most of our lives: as I’ve never heard stories of rejection, hazing, or persecution that you personally have experienced in your life due to your faith.
But we are also offered eternal life should something down here not go as planned. Whether your faithfulness to Christ results in abundance or death, we have nothing to fear: we’ll live with God either way!
What’s left to fear is not what the world will say or do to us. It’s the violence we’ll do to ourselves by denying Jesus’ call to follow him into the world. It’s incomplete joy, incomplete love, disconnection from God- and missing out on the adventure you were created for.
So follow God, who invites us to join Godself, goodness and mercy as the greatest traveling cohort ever assembled. Together we’re given everything we need to face our fears in the valley of the shadow of death, and anointed for ministry in the world with neighbor and enemy alike.
Do not fear! Receive the Holy Spirit.